>> Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (John’s Review, 6.5/10)

Indiana JonesThis movie looks like it was filmed on a green-screen sound stage. That’s the thing that sticks out in my mind the most about the fourth installment in the Indiana Jones saga. Why is such a technicality important? Because what we have here is the least cinematic film in a series of films so much larger than life that they are a part of Americana. The question after viewing Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is how did these two young filmmakers, George Lucas and Steven Speilberg, release Raiders of the Lost Ark almost thirty years ago with such a searing blaze of artistic confidence and now that they are older and arguably masters of their craft, collaborate to release something so lacking in artistic confidence?

I do like the story elements of Crystal Skull quite a bit, certainly more than those in Temple of Doom. Lucas mines the old Chariots of the Gods stuff, the Erich Von Daniken “non-fiction” book that links the Mayans to an alien civilization (amongst other claims), and mixes it with Cold War Russian psychological experimentation. Seems the Russians and their super secret psychic commando, Inna Spalko (Cate Blanchett), seek a super secret Mayan artifact–a crystal alien skull, that they can use as a mind control weapon. Dr. Jones’ help is enlisted by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a rebel with a cause, the cause being the disappearance of their mutual friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt), whose obsession with the crystal skull drove him insane. Several awkwardly staged action sequence later, and film climaxes in the deepest heart of a green-screen Peru, with an ending that is 100-percent science fiction and zero-percent historical adventure.

Imagine if Paramount owned Indiana Jones, instead of Lucasfilm, and they hired two other guys besides Lucas and Spielberg to make an Indiana Jones film, and you’d probably get something like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It feels hesitant and unsure, while still maintaining some elements that fans of the series might enjoy. Even John Williams’ signature score is strangely subdued, almost entirely without the usual rousing bombast. Sometimes there’s no music at all in scenes where it really stands out that we should be hearing some John Williams music right about now. It plays out like a film made by newcomers to a beloved franchise, like when Joe Johnston tackled Jurassic Park 3 or Jonathon Mostow took on the unwelcome task of helming T3: Rise of the Machines. Only, and this is the sad part, it isn’t made by newcomers.

This illogical, sometimes silly, adventure would be more forgivable if it wasn’t delivered to us by two of Hollywood’s most esteemed magic makers. The green-screen stuff ruins a ton of shots, limiting Spielberg’s camera placement, and, quite frankly, making most of the action scenes look terribly fake. An otherwise exciting swordfight between Mutt and Spalko is basically ruined with atrocious effects work. Indiana Jones, for the first time in any of these films, is an underwritten character. That’s especially problematic when the movie is titled Indiana Jones.

Regardless, I was entertained, albeit disappointed. The argument can be made that it is better than a lot of the junk out there in theatres, and while that’s certainly true, it doesn’t mean this should get some kind of free pass at being sort of lame. I actually hope this isn’t the last one, because I don’t want to see this series end on such a mute note, but maybe it’s time for Speilberg and Lucas to move on and let someone else take the reigns. They’ve already shown us what Indiana Jones would look like in lesser hands by making this film at a time in their careers when they simply don’t appear to care about this character.

6.5 on a 1 to 10 scale


1 Comment

  1. I almost wholeheartedly agree. I didn’t care much for the chase scene in the Amazon, but I think it was mostly attributed to Shia being the main focus of the chase and not so much the green-screen work with him split between the two vehicles. My main issues with the movie were that it was Kaminski shot, which I can’t really fault since the original photographer of the first 3 films is either over 90 or dead, and the other is that there seemed a blatant attempt to introduce Shia as the next Indy character to carry on the series. If his character was written as a more typical Indy sidekick (something similar to the stuff Shia already plays in his other roles) and had more of a sidekick presence I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more. It was almost like Indiana Jones was barely the main character of his own film.
    All this being said I still dug the film regardless.


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